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New Trails on the Horizon For the Refuge

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LAWTON, Okla_After several public forums, surveys and research, Refuge officials have finally unveiled a blueprint for a potential set of new trails they hope to put in.

Leaders from the Refuge and representatives from the National Department of Transportation met Thursday night to kick off their plan to make hiking and biking more accessible for a broader audience.

Their biggest idea was a stacked loop trail system. It would consist of multiple trails that increased in difficulty the farther a hiker ventured out and would incorporate several existing trails like the trail at Jed Johnson.

The response was positive and the excitement of maximizing interest in the Refuge and providing new avenues for youth to get fit were the things that had everyone motivated to get the plan off the ground. 

Part of the new plan would include paved trails for bicycle and stroller accessibility. The goal is to incorporate a new audience for the Refuge that might not have felt comfortable blazing a trail before.

"There's just so much the Wichita Mountains have to offer, and it's one reason why we get over a million and half visitors per year. This is just moving forward and improving what we have and making the area better for the people coming to the Refuge, " said Deputy Refuge Manager, Ralph Bryant.

The Fit Kids Program leads the fight against childhood obesity, and is partnering with the Refuge to get the trails in place. They see the new trails as an opportunity to get kids active; physical educator and Fit Kids committee member Ken Gray agrees.

"It's giving the kids access to the Wildlife Refuge and to the sport of hiking, walking, family time on the Refuge where they are exercising and learning about nature and what we have not even 20 minutes from Lawton, " said Gray.

Bringing the new trails to life is largely dependent upon funding. They've already got $440,000 but will need more. Bryant said they'll be relying on money from government programs as they have in the past. They're not sure when the money will arrive, but they want to be ready when it does.

"That's one of the things that we're really working on is getting the planning done, try to get the engineering done, we'll have all of our documents done so once the money possibly shows up we're ready to hit the road and go with it, " said Bryant.

Bryant said taking funding into consideration along with all of the planning, construction and engineering he estimates seeing at least one of these trails in use in the next three years.

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